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Is our data safe in the cloud?

Find out what happens to data when it's stored online.

Everything is in the ‘cloud’ these days. Those photos you snap on your phone. The credit card info you type into a website. The work reports, spreadsheets and contracts you keep in your Dropbox or Google Drive. But have you ever stopped and asked yourself, “Where does it all go? Is my data safe? And can other people get to it or use it?”

The short answer is that when your data is in the cloud, you’re generally entrusting it to big companies that will do everything in their power to keep it safe and secure, because their business depends on it. So your data is very safe if you take the right precautions. In fact, the cloud adds an extra layer of protection over traditional hard drives and servers, since your data will be automatically backed up and stored remotely.

As for whether or not other people can see your data and mine it for marketing purposes, well, that’s more complicated. It’s up to the app developers, your privacy settings and the laws governing the country in which your data is stored. Keep in mind that even if you’re in Canada, your data might not be — depending on what service you use.

Who operates & uses the cloud?

Cloud-based computing and storage has come a long way since 1983, when CompuServe first offered users the chance to store files on their servers. Today, companies and government agencies around the world are turning to providers who host their data on the cloud and provide on-demand computer processing. In return for a relatively low fee, these services offer near infinite scalability, top-notch security and highly reliable service.

Internationally recognized companies like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Storage and IBM Bluemix offer cloud services, while closer to home in Manitoba, providers like Epic, a Bell MTS Company, work with both local and international customers.

This on-demand availability has helped fuel the growth of the mobile and cloud-based app market. After all, since the average person or company no longer needs to build their own servers, it’s possible for a developer to come up with an idea for a cloud-based service, launch it and scale it up in a matter of hours — and at relatively low costs.

Questions about secure cloud storage? Epic can help.

Companies of all sizes and industries, from small retail businesses, printing houses and law firms all the way up to massive enterprises like Kellogg’s, GE, Expedia and Airbnb rely on cloud services to store and protect their data. Even the CIA reportedly paid $600 million to build a custom cloud that they use to…well, nobody’s supposed to know.

Where is the cloud?

The cloud is simply a way to explain that your data and software is stored on the Internet rather than on your local hard drive. You access that data and software via the Internet as well, so a reliable Internet connection is a necessary aspect of using cloud services.

The beauty of the cloud is that your data isn’t stored on just one computer or server. With cloud services, data is stored across several physical servers that are located in data centres — often in different cities or countries around the world.

Utilizing data centres that combine storage and processing power in these key locations is also what makes your data safer and faster to access. If there were an outage or issue in one location, your data would still be backed up and accessible via the other servers.

Of course, even these services encounter problems — as happened this past February when Amazon’s AWS service was hit with a massive outage that knocked thousands of US corporate websites and smartphone apps offline, also impacting the ability to access backend storage and software. Although the outage only lasted several hours, it also affected many Internet of Things services and appliances across millions of homes — ranging from smart thermostats and light bulbs to TV remote controls. Amazon later revealed that the outage was caused by human error during a routine debugging exercise, when an employee inadvertently took additional servers offline, creating a domino effect in their system.

So the cloud isn’t perfect, but providers are working to make it better every day. When working with cloud-service providers, it’s important to discuss their uptime and the network security options they offer to protect your infrastructure.

Is my data safe in the cloud?

It’s apparent that cloud suppliers must pride themselves on exceptional security, reliability and uptime. If they don’t deliver on that promise, then they’ll lose a lot of business in a hurry. That being said, your cloud-based accounts could still be vulnerable to sneaky hacker and cybercriminal attacks, targeting access points from outside the cloud — meaning, from within your own business.

For example, a hacker could steal your account login information, giving them cart blanche to access your accounts and make changes to your system. Posing as an accredited user, the hacker could potentially enter and exit without being noticed.

The way to prevent this and other cybercrime from happening is to follow some general guidelines:

  • Limit access to security groups and don’t give everyone in the office access
  • Use secure protocols like ‘https’ instead of ‘http’
  • Change your passwords regularly and make sure they’re very strong
  • Be careful about where you store account credentials/passwords and who has access
  • Initiate two-factor authorization — for example, requiring a password and a code texted to your phone to log in
  • Make sure you trust the app developers and cloud services provider you work with
  • Ensure your cloud provider will follow equally stringent security protocols

Unfortunately, it’s a fact of business that every company is vulnerable to hacking and other attacks, just the same as any other server — even if their defenses are extremely robust. It’s crucial to stay up-to-date on security measures and to work with a reputable cloud services provider to better protect your company from cyber threats, disasters and unplanned disruptions to your business operations.

For more information about cloud solutions that fit your business, contact Epic, a Bell MTS company.

 

Up Next: Get some more in-depth information about the mysteries of the ‘cloud’.

Robert Hardy

Robert Hardy is a Vancouver-based television producer, writer and development consultant. Through his company Perfect Day Productions, Robert works with leading producers, writers and networks to help create innovative new television series, digital media and documentaries.

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